Why Veterans Struggle Transitioning into the Workforce — And How Professional Career Coaches Seldom Help

Organizations need to spend more time and resources on getting help when it comes to hiring veterans into their workforces.

One of the first pieces of advice given to a United States military veteran transitioning into the civilian labor force is to consider getting a professionally written résumé.

The idea is intended to “best represent” the skills that are the most applicable to a veteran’s prospective employers. While this approach may work for most job seekers, it doesn’t always work out as well with veterans. A number of reasons explain why. As a former veteran, I know how difficult this transition can be.

First of all, when job seekers have a résumé written with the help of a professional to impress employers, it is most likely only telling the employer what they want to hear. Employers only want to know about the skills that are directly applicable to the positions they’re looking to fill; therefore, veterans without prior corporate experience come from a position of disadvantage. As a result, most veterans who work with professional résumé writers end up over-simplifying their skills to fit a rigid job description. What ends up happening then is veterans are hired into roles that they’re overqualified for because of such résumé oversimplification. It is therefore not surprising to find those same veterans are back on the market soon thereafter looking for a new job due to poor job satisfaction.

The process often feels like a never-ending cycle, where veterans remain unsure of how their skills translate to the corporate world, and, intent on finding a job, end up in a role that doesn’t fit over and over again.

So what is the problem?

Is it the veteran and their military mindset? Their lack of direct corporate experience? Is it that the veteran is not adapting to the new company and therefore is most likely not a good fit for the specific employer? These appear to be logical reasons. But there’s something greater at hand.

Most veterans are taught to play the game that corporate America encourages — by putting our “best faces” forward to appease an employer and get a job. We keep things simple during the interview — so much so that we really aren’t sharing half of our skills and abilities for fear of rejection. We simplify our experiences in our résumé. This creates a very limited dialogue in how we can explain what we actually know how to do because we fear that by explaining our skills in the context that we learned and experienced them they won’t be understood by most employers. So we try our best to simplify these skills into more relatable corporate experiences. But it always doesn’t work.

Veterans’ skill sets are under-represented

The veteran soon realizes that by withholding so much of their skills and capabilities from the employer during the interview that they have somehow landed in a position of under-employment and now are finding themselves growing weary in their new role. The advice that most professional résumé writers and career coaches gave, “to make a soft and palatable presentation and to leave out all of the military talk,” can leave the veteran under-valued in their skills and, most likely, underpaid as well.

Veterans in this situation, feeling as if they need to box their unique experiences into something that appears relevant for a corporate audience, often feel lost, like they don’t identify with the world they’re entering.

It seems simple enough to understand that if we are not appropriately expressing who we are with our actual experiences then we are most likely not going to last very long in our position due to organizational misplacement. The idea of getting a corporate résumé is supposed to be a popular tool for transitioning veterans in order to obtain successful employment. But what happens when the limited branding of the professional résumé is the very reason we need to find a new job?

I encourage business leaders and those closely associated with the hiring function to consider a fresh approach to their tactics. If you’re unable to grasp the complexity of the veteran’s résumé then you might consider outsourcing to a well-versed veteran and advocate that can speak the language of both military and corporate culture.

There is no honor in playing small when you seek meaningful employment, which most veterans are. We as veterans need to be seen from the perspective of authenticity. This authenticity comes from honoring who we are and not being sold as something we are not. Falsely identifying in a way that underrepresents our true skills just to get the job is not doing anyone any favors.

Carin R. Sendra is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a general manager at indoor skydiving firm iFLY Oceanside. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.